Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Case for Captaining America 2

The first Captain America film (well, the first one starring Chris Evans) was really a set up for the Avengers movie, showing Captain America’s origins and setting almost everything else up so that a bunch of diverse superheroes could get together to try and stop a bad man from using a macguffin to destroy the world (one way or another).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a lot more satisfying than the first film and to my way of thinking, is much better than Thor: The Dark World (though perhaps not quite as up there as the first Thor).  Steve Rodgers may be a man out of time, but when he has the Black Widow (the amazingly cool and gorgeous Scarlett Johanson) by his side, sharing an amazingly awesome rapport while not necessarily having a huge amount of romantic tension between them) and is following in the footsteps of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) who has an amazing amount of action in this film, then you know the character development and interaction will be brilliant.  And with acting legend Robert Redford along for the ride too, well, what is not to like?

Well, about the only thing I did not like was what appeared to be a brief cameo from a guy who won a competition to be in the movie by being an i-store employee, delivering a rather odd line about the Captain’s “attractiveness”, though the actor himself handled it quite well.  

Elsewise, the film starts with action, slows to great character interaction, and then ends with bigger action and explosions than ever, and all around… rocks.

Of course, there is not enough Cobie Smulders (can there ever be enough?) and the Winter Soldier, the super villain of the title, is actually pretty inconsequential to the main story and may come up again in later tales.  Sure, he looks like a Communist emo who spends huge amounts of time at the gym and getting himself waxed, but really he doesn’t get much to say or do… and I will leave it there for the sake of not revealing any spoilers.

Evans is great though.  I have always quite liked his attitude, and he does earnest almost as well as he does cocky (and he gets the chance to do a bit of both).  So, unlike Hemsworth in Thor: the Dark World, he doesn’t get a bit eclipsed by all the other incredible thesping going on around him, and seeing Redford’s cool demeanour alongside Jackson’s more wild eyed style is pretty amazing in itself.  

So, yeah, it was a great movie.  Not a short one, not by a long shot, and in theory some of the action scenes could be whittled down a bit.  But really, I just enjoyed the highly entertaining ride, and could probably see this on the big screen again, though it definitely does not to be seen in 3D.

Loved the gravestone too.

Verdict: Captain America: The Winter Soldier has very little to do with the Winter Soldier and everything to do with a great blockbusting action film.  Loved it, wish more were like it.  9 stars out of 10 stripes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Case for Noahing

A friend summarised Noah, the first of a new wave (as it were) of Biblical epic films, thusly (spoiler alert!):

Noah: Man that was a weird dream – I gotta build me a boat!
Walking MacDonald’s toys: We’ll help you build it
Various members of Noah’s family [to Noah]: I love you! I hate you! Wail! Sob!
Methuselah: I gotta get me some berries!
Noah: Those babies must die! It is God’s plan!
[A little later]
Noah: Darn it, those babies are just too cute
[A little later]
Noah: Firighnigh, go-away-lemme-alone, slobber slurp
[A little later]
Noah: Gardening is so relaxing. Oh go on, let’s start humanity over again

Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot, and speaks loads to the story too.

As much as this is a Darren Aronofsky film and so has some amazing touches in it, it never really seems to gel as a movie.  The visual retelling of “stories” seem blended together from Richard Attenborough nature documentaries and scenes from Cocoon, and the decision to tell the story as more of a fantasy film kind of works except there does not really seem to be any attempt to make the hero likeable.

To be honest, it was actually this quality that lured me to see the film: if you know the story, Noah condemned thousands of people to die as he refused to allow them on the ark that would save 2 of each species to repopulate the planet.  How would his family react?  As Noah’s wife, Jennifer Connolly shows the dilemma she (and some other people who are fairly inconsequential, even if one of them is Emma Watson) faced when confronted with the reality of the situation when, for the most part, they did not have a direct line link to the Creator.

However, the film squandered a bit of the intrigue by being ridiculously long and slow, and when the two horrific CGI babies showed up, I had traumatic flashbacks to Renesme from the Twilight series and almost fled from the cinema in terror.

Connelly is really the main saving grace in the film, odd considering she isn’t given that much to do.  The tale is meant to be about Noah (Russell Crowe, who gets to sing a la Les Miserables – take that as you will) and we follow him a lot, but its very hard to feel sympathy or empathy with him, his “dream messages” from the Creator drying up (pardon the pun) shortly before they start building the Ark and so his decisions from then on a bit… well, unclear. 

When dealing with an all powerful deity, there is always that tension between free will and predestination, and to my way of thinking, the film didn’t really overcome this problem.  Noah’s regret and the like therefore seems a bit false:  Does he trust the Creator implicitly or not?  Is the Creator always right or not?  And did it ever rain before the great flood?

Still, on the plus side, the special effects are wonderful, Connelly is outstanding, and Watson gets to sing a bit as well.  Crowe is fine (the singing…) with the real impediment to his character being more the script and direction than his portrayal.  His sons however are all fairly bland, with Watson’s costar in Perks of Being a Wallflower, Logan Lerman, managing to play an exceedingly annoying and mostly unsympathetic d!ck quite well (not sure if he was meant to).  Ray Winston is along as the main baddy and seems to be literally as well as figuratively chewing the scenery.  Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah has a bit of fun with berries, but it is Marton Csokas who I remember most strongly for purely patriotic reasons.

Verdict:  Noah is visually impressive but uneven, overlong and a bit soulless.  But the “creation in seven days” sequence is actually pretty awesome (though not quite as literalists would have it) and Connolly rescues the film from drowning (as it were) by being pretty awesome.  50% chance of rain.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Case for Raid-ience

Does it snow in Jakarta?

That was one of my few questions about the awesome action martial arts epic The Raid 2, as really, if you are there to question the plot and try and poke holes in the plot, you are at the wrong movie.

The snow in question comes about two thirds of the way through the movie’s rather impressive running time of two and a half hours, beautifying up the death of a relatively cool character.  I am sure the only reason it is in there is to give this character’s demise a bit more poignancy, but my fellow travellers on this martial arts journey barely even registered that snow might be out of place given the climate, so evidently for most people, it is not enough to distract them from the film.

Because the film, despite its running time, is packed full of action and one on one or one on many fisticuffs.  Sure, the in between bits can drag as the story slowly but surely unfolds following on from the tighter, tauter script from the first Raid movie.  But that movie was based on one evening and was confined to a building: this time, there are prisons and warehouses and car chases and subway trains.  

And the people populating this expanded universe are also a lot more varied.  Hammer Girl is rightly famous for being, well, a girl who knows how to use her hammers, but there’s a guy with a baseball bat, another with a couple of curved knives, and a few others with their own particular shtick.  The least successful for me was the criminal mastermind / big bad guy who, with his limp, gloves and dark sunglasses, came across as a comic Doctor Strangelove rather than as a criminal genius that, as an audience member, I am expected to loathe.  

However, the shticks are all just excuses for throwing a wide variety of martial arts action styles at the viewer and at the hero, Rama, back for more of the same after the last film’s finish.  You don’t really get the chance to experience a lot of Rama’s character development, but that is because that is really not the point of the film.  His storyline is there to guide the viewer to different action set pieces, not to provide the actor with a chance to show his emotional range.  And highly successful and enjoyable that path is!

This film will not be to everyone’s taste as it is very much as it says on the box: every death has to have some particular twist to it (if they are a named character of course!) and the martial arts action comes thick, fast, and fatally.  Likewise the camerawork, incredible in its execution (keeping up with the martial arts action must have been difficult or else highly choreographed), could leave you a bit nauseous considering how much and often it moves.

But for a fan of the first film, like me, the sequel to the Raid delivered everything I was hoping for and expected, and then a bit more – including length.  Sure, the extended story did count against it at times, but overall, it came out on top.

Verdict: The Raid 2 is an awesome action film and I was thrilled that it was shown at Readings, and in VO, in Indonesian with English subtitles. 4 broken fingers out of 5.